Gameloft’s original N.O.V.A. iPhone and iPad game was a clear homage to Bungie’s Halo – a sci-fi themed first person shooter with enough of the seminal Xbox classic’s influences clearly on its sleeves; the sequel, you’ll no doubt not be surprised to hear, doesn’t deviate from the formula to any great extent. In fact, in some cases (like the invisible, Predator-esque enemies) it’s actually even closer to Master Chief’s first adventure, those cloaked Elites always were my least favourite cannon fodder.
Still, it’s not like the developers chose a bad FPS to riff off, and whilst N.O.V.A. (which stands for Near Orbital Vanguard Alliance) might offer up holographic female company and a structurally familiar plotline (and environment) Gameloft’s original late 2009 shooter was actually a great deal of fun, and was commercially a success igniting the genre on the platform and kicking off a slew of similar games from both the same publisher and a good chunk of its rivals. N.O.V.A. was the catalyst, and it’s no shock that the second game is so alike.
Despite early rumours that the game was being developed for the iPad and ‘dumbed down’ for iPhone, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The larger format might offer more real estate but the visuals suffer from the increased size and the textures and polygonal models, up close at least, appear rather low resolution. In contrast, running the game on the Retina-powered iPhone 4 is a delight, the frame-rate’s smoother, the graphics are crisper and appear richer and the control’s much easier to manage, with the weighty iPad proving to be cumbersome for extended periods of play.
Not that there’s a shortage of control type – whilst there’s technically only three they run the full gamut of usual interface methods but all require deft ‘twin-stick’ control and there’s oddly no option for autofire, something that Archetype nailed – if I’m locked onto something with a gun equipped it’s a welcome option for the game to just assume I’d like to fire, too. The gyro function in the latest iPhone does mean that you can aim by tilting the device (and it’s really smooth) leaving a spare thumb, but not everyone likes to play shooters this way.
So whilst the tech’s all there and the presentation’s top notch, it’s down to the gameplay to prove Gameloft’s point; and in most cases it’s a win. The pacing’s a little bit off – some of the vehicle-based shoot-outs go on for far too long and lack urgency – but for first person shooter fans this pretty much ticks all the boxes given the platform. The weaponry varies from wildly destructive rocket launchers to a shotgun that appears to fire sponges given the amount of ammo you need to use up just to down an opponent, and the grenades are a little bit hit and miss.
What is cool though is the upgrade shop in-between levels, where you can select from a veritable treat of weapon and player augmentations – as long as you’ve collected enough money during each level, of course. These range from a bigger health bar to larger magazines, but Gameloft have played a blinder by ensuring that cash is tight so you’ll probably want a couple of play-throughs of the main campaign to try out different upgrade paths. Some are a little pointless, but others make a big difference and the whole concept is a nice touch.
Likewise, the multiplayer option carries over a similar theme, although it’s your rank that determines the available weaponry and items rather than your ability to hunt out sparkly yellow monetary tokens. Players of the first N.O.V.A. get a 400 XP boost when they sign in, but after that it’s down to you as an individual to keep playing and upping your stats. It brings to mind several console shooters and the way they hook in the gamer with a trickle of similar rewards, and although we didn’t play long enough to grab the top level goodies there were already players with impressive arsenal.
Multiplayer itself requires a Gameloft Live account, which is disappointing given the presence of Game Center on both iPhone and iPad, but it works smoothly enough once you’re signed in and we didn’t notice any lag or dropped matches, and the servers seemed to be constantly busy. The skill level of your opponents varies massively, though, some were running around in circles pointing at the ground and others were picking off targets from miles away, and whilst the quality of the maps is a little inconsistent you can filter pretty much everything to find the game you want.
I like N.O.V.A. 2, it’s a solid title from a company known for producing exactly that: reliable, consistent games. It doesn’t strive to do anything out of the ordinary, although some of the set-pieces were great fun to play through, but on the whole it’s up there with other FPSs on iDevices but doesn’t quite achieve the same level of shine that Battlefield 2 did. That said, there’s nothing particularly wrong with Gameloft’s second N.O.V.A. game and if you’re picking up a new phone this Christmas it’s well worth your time.
- Decent length single player campaign
- 10 player online multiplayer is welcome
- Vehicle sections are fun
- Gameloft Live rather than Game Center for multiplayer
- Controls are tiring on the iPad
- Visuals can be hit and miss
- Poor story
N.O.V.A. 2’s a fairly safe sequel even for a studio known for its reliability. Whilst the developers have added elements to almost every aspect of the game and should be commended for the multiplayer portion, this is still a game with a few niggling issues and a sub-standard plot. It’s good, a solid shooter on a platform that shouldn’t really be able to cope with such a complicated console-esque title, but it’s as far from perfection as it is from average. Fans of the original will no doubt lap it up and spend hours online, though, and that was probably always the intention.